Rob Dreams of Soylent



The other day I came across an article in the New Yorker entitled “The End of Food.” My initial reaction was “NOOOOO!!!” Beyond just the basic fact that food keeps me alive, I love love LOVE food. I love shopping for it, preparing it, eating it. I love going to new restaurants and experiencing different combinations and styles of food I wouldn’t have previously considered. I love Chinese, Italian, Japanese, French, Ethiopian, vegan, etc etc et al et al. I love pasta, I love salmon, I love bacon wrapped dates, I love pumpkin cheesecake. Did I mention I love food?

In spite of the physical repulsion I felt from the heading alone, I couldn’t resist clicking on the link and seeing what all this “no food” nonsense was about. It turns out some guy has created a substance called “Soylent” which provides all the essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins to keep our bodies functioning. First of all, couldn’t he come up with a better name than Soylent?! Ugh, it sounds like a crop fertilizer, or a super rubbery vegetarian sausage link. Moreover, Soylent Green was a product in a Charlton Heston movie that ended up being made out of humans. Marketing fail.

Before I even made it past the first paragraph of the article, I already had a hankering about what sort of “genius” created this so-called food destroyer. A. It had to be a guy- no woman subjected to the monthly trials and tribulations of PMS would ever dare try and erase the basic food groups of chocolate and potato chips from our planet earth. B. He had to be socially and romantically challenged. Imagine asking a girl on a date to go and get soylent smoothies? Check please! Sorry guys, but we need that three course buffer to get to know you before we decide to go home with you. A bizarre concoction possibly composed of other human beings is just not gonna cut it. Plus, how would any movies ever get made in Hollywood without power lunches? This no food thing continues to sound worse and worse.

Turns out I wasn’t far off. Soylent’s founder Rob Rheinhart is an electrical engineer/ start up guy (aka nerd) who had gotten tired of the time and money he wasted on food. I can just hear Gordon Ramsey’s British accent now- “you f***ing wanker! You know NOTHING!” He was sick of eating top ramen and frozen pizzas (who wouldn’t be?) and thus came up with the idea of designing a product that could replace food altogether. Okay, this is great if it’s the zombie apocalypse and nobody has time for anything but kicking serious zombie ass. But it’s not. This is the 21st century, where cultural pleasures include going to the theater, wandering around in museums taking in Rembrandts, and yes, enjoying 7 course meals with exquisite wine pairings (all of which I can only assume Mr. Rheinhart has never had the delicious opportunity to experience.) How terrible would life be if it were only about efficiency? Sorry, bro, but there are more important things in life than just developing the next app that can help you stop and smell the roses. Like actually STOPPING TO SMELL THE ROSES.

Alright, I need to take a deep breath and calm down. But seriously, Rob’s proposal to eliminate food because it’s time consuming and expensive just misses the point. Somebody force this guy to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi or Spinning Plates ASAP! Some of my best experiences in life have been around a dinner table, philosophizing about the meaning of life while indulging in octopus confit with grilled white asparagus (I just went to Trois Mec last week, omigod). Why would we go to wonderful restaurants on special occasions if it weren’t special? Try and imagine going to Paris and not having croissants, or Italy without pasta, or Thailand without pad Thai. Horrible, right? What’s next, a pill that makes us drunk without having to drink wine? (That’s already being developed, btw, kill me now.)

The fact is, food is so much more than just food- it’s an art form, a communal event, a celebration of life. If a bunch of nerdy tech guys want to stop eating it and simply drink their nutrients, by all means, let them have Soylent. But do not go around proclaiming the “end of food.” And if we truly are headed down that disturbing path, let’s call it what it really is: “the end of one of the great human pleasures.”